Barry Goldwater and the Religious Right

Religion is an important part of America. There’s no denying it. Religion has always been a prominent part of life in America, even though many of the Founding Fathers were quite clear that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Spirituality, religiosity, and a belief in a higher power don’t automatically mean that you expect a country to be founded on the principles of a specific religion.

And the Founders of our nation kept specific religious language out of almost everything official having to do with the founding of the country.

And there’s a reason for that. Take it away, Barry Goldwater:

Barry Goldwater

I think that religious observance is a good thing. After all, I’m active in my own faith. However, you don’t have to be religious, or even believe in God, to be a good person. And just because you think God is on your side is no reason to try to legislate in a way that denies others basic freedoms and dignities. After all, your religious beliefs might not be everyone’s beliefs.

Over the last 40 years, we’ve seen the religious right increasingly associated with the Republican Party, and it’s turned into a political-religious machine that whips up the base by scaring them with the horrors of gay marriage, breadwinning women, and contraception (which, for some reason, many think is the same thing as abortion). It’s amazing how this marriage of politics and religion has turned into a juggernaut that encourages freedom-loving people everywhere to deny others freedoms based on their religious beliefs.

While there are plenty of progressives that are also religious — after all, admonitions to care for the poor and to love adulterers ring true with the bleeding hearts, and passionate religious liberals love the story of Jesus whipping those greedy capitalists money changers out of the temple — many of them aren’t into hierarchy, and they aren’t into telling everyone else that they need to live by laws based on their religious beliefs. Many progressives of faith have no problems with your faith, or your lack thereof.

The problem with the religious progressive movement is that it, like so many movements on the left end of the spectrum, isn’t likely to be a big winner. There are plenty of constituencies on the left, so individual movements and agendas tend to get watered down. The right’s attempt at a “big tent” sort of faltered and failed as the religious right took over. And because the right is conservative. As in conserving the past and taking to change slowly.

The thing about being a conservative is that, by nature, the whole thing is very top-down and unified. For the most part, it’s hierarchal. Because that’s the way of tradition. Liberals are all over the place and lack the same level of organization. Sure there’s organization, but it doesn’t compare to the conservative side. It just doesn’t compare to the unified front and communication you see in the conservative movements, particularly the movement associated with the religious right. With today’s liberals, there’s no one defining characteristic, while, on the right, a certain brand of morality-based religion (in which “morality” is strictly defined by what’s going on with your reproductive processes) has had ascendency for years.

The Deseret News breaks it down, and points out that there’s enough diversity among liberals that specific religiosity doesn’t matter. And many liberals rate other societal ills as more important than What Religion Says:

According to David E. Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame and director of the school’s Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy, religious progressives may not be as needed by the Democratic Party as the GOP needs the so-called religious right.

“Numerically they’re quite small; (they’re) not terribly well organized; (and it’s) not even clear the issues they prioritize necessarily have a religious inflection to them,” said Campbell, co-author, with Robert Putnam, of “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.” “Unlike opposition to gay marriage or abortion, which is almost intrinsically religious,” issues such as “income inequality, immigration, the environment — you don’t find religion as the driving force … among those Americans who hold those views.”

It’s an interesting look at the differences between the religious right and the religious left. The religious left may be religious, but they channel their efforts into creating a more equitable and just society, while the religious right focuses a great deal trying to get everyone in line with what they think is God’s Will for Everyone.

And, going back to the Goldwater quote, one of the problems with getting hung up on Religion as Secular Law is that it makes it hard to have a reasoned discussion and make the compromises that are necessary in a diverse society. If you are sure that God backs you up, and that God wants you to deny others basic protections and rights, there is no other discussion point. It all turns to dogma.

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